Starting kindergarten is a big step for kids and parents alike, and it can bring up a whirlwind of emotions. If packing lunches hasn’t been part of your routine, it can add stress to that whirlwind.
When my kids started kindergarten, I faced lunch packing with a mix of excitement and a bit of worry. How would I stay on top of lunch-making? Would they even eat what I packed?
Thankfully, packing lunches can be a breeze with some easy lunch ideas and a plan. It can even be a creative outlet if you send along encouraging notes or make cute bento boxes.
In this post, I’ll share easy lunch ideas that even picky eaters will go for. I’ll also share some helpful tips to simplify the lunch-packing process and ease your worries. Whether you’re a seasoned lunchbox pro or a newbie looking for inspiration, we’ve got you covered.
Lunchbox Essentials: What Do You Need in a Kindergarten Lunchbox?
Schools often have varying requirements for lunches. Some ask for no metal water bottles (due to noise), and some require a snack packed separately. No matter what, teachers consistently mention it makes a big difference if your child can open their lunch box on their own.
The main items you’ll need for lunches:
- A good lunchbox or reusable containers – look for dishwasher-safe
- Insulated lunch bag to keep food fresh
- Kid-friendly utensils and napkins
- A reusable water bottle
Tip: Consider practicing lunchtime at home to build the skills to open their lunch box and eat lunch.
Simplifying The Lunch-Packing Process
Having a plan makes lunch prep easier for busy parents. It doesn’t need to be complex. We use four categories on our printable lunch menu planner to spark ideas: main meal, veggies, fruit, and extras.
- Plan on lunch packing in the evening – making mornings easier makes such a huge difference!
- Prep what you can ahead of time. You can cut up fruit or veggies for the week and store them in big containers for easy packing. Homemade ‘uncrustables’ can be batch-prepared and frozen.
- Store your lunch packing supplies in one central location. We use a deep drawer with Ikea drawer dividers to make it easier to keep lids, containers, and reusable bags in order.
Tips for Picky Eaters
If you’ve got a picky eater, ‘easy lunch ideas’ might sound like a myth. However, we have some tips from seasoned parents that can help.
- Lunch is only one part of the day. Your kid can get various nutrition throughout the day; it doesn’t have to all be in their lunch.
- If you’ve found one lunch that your child wants over and over again – great! You don’t have to reinvent lunch each day. School can be a big, overwhelming place for a child, and this can reduce their interest in variety. A simple, repeatable lunch may provide a glimmer of comfort and predictability in their day.
- Get your child involved in making their lunch. Kids are more likely to be interested in food they’ve had a hand preparing or picking. Parents in an online lunch-making group mention they’ve had good luck making a chart with pictures of foods they know their child likes and then letting the child point to items on the chart to put in their lunches.
- Presentation matters. Food that looks tasty and interesting gets kids curious to try it. Easy ways to make lunch enjoyable include cutting food into cubes, making kebabs with chunks of food, or making fun shapes using cookie cutters.
- Consider sending hand wipes if you’ve got a kiddo who hates mess. Little things like this help kids feel prepared and give them more sense of control, possibly making it easier to eat at school.
30 Easy Lunch Ideas for Kids!
Here are some of our favorite easy lunch ideas. I hope this list helps you stay inspired!
Tip: Check if your school has a nut-free policy, and of course, if your child has food allergies, communicate with the school about these ahead of time.
- Turkey sandwich – A turkey sandwich is one of the most classic lunch choices. Turkey, cheese, lettuce, and tomato make a great lunch that’s easy to assemble.
- PB & J – The turkey sandwich is perhaps only challenged as the most popular school lunch by PB & J. This is a kid favorite; just watch out for any allergy policies at your school.
- Ham and cheese – Another classic sandwich option. Try adding some lettuce and tomato for a well-rounded lunch.
- Bagel with cream cheese – A bagel with cream cheese is a favorite of many young kids. Bagels stand up well to being refrigerated the night ahead. Add some cucumber slices for that extra crunch.
- Cream cheese and jam – My mom used to pack these for me on multigrain bread. They’re a tasty mix of sweet and tangy.
- Egg salad sandwich – You can make a batch of egg salad ahead of time and use it in sandwiches for a few days. If your child likes, you can also throw in a few greens like celery, spinach, or chives.
- Chicken salad sandwich – Chicken salad can also be made ahead of time, and it’s full of protein and healthy fats.
Vegetarian Lunch Ideas
- Hummus pita – Pitas offer some variety from sandwich bread. Try hummus, cheese, and cucumber for a simple, healthy lunch.
- Quinoa salad – Quinoa is quick to make and high in protein. Try an oil-based dressing for quinoa salad and fill it with all your favorite veggies!
- Bean salad – Like the quinoa salad above, use a simple dressing and fill this salad with veggies. My kids like bean salad with cherry tomatoes, feta, and cucumber.
- Pesto Pasta – Pesto pasta makes for a tasty dish that can be served cold. You can add sliced tomatoes or other veggies for a pasta salad.
Hot Lunch Ideas
If you’re sending a hot lunch, have a good insulated lunch bag to keep your kid’s food warm. Keeping hot food insulated and separate from cold is vital. Lunch foods that include a fair amount of liquid are easiest to keep warm in a thermos.
- Chili – Chili is great because you can make a pot and have lunches all week (for yourself and your kids!). Some say it even gets better the next day as the flavors have a chance to soak.
- Soup – Always welcome in the colder months, soup is a great way to pack in a bunch of veggies at lunch.
- Meatballs – Usually a dinner-time staple, meatballs are just as delicious at lunch. If you have plenty of sauce around them, it’ll help them stay warm in your thermos.
Breakfast for Lunch
- Oatmeal chia cups – Why not breakfast for lunch? You can make oatmeal chia cups ahead, like overnight oats. Chia adds interesting texture, making these tasty, hot or cold. Try mixing in some berries, sliced almonds, and cinnamon.
- Yogurt and granola – Yogurt and granola are a healthy and filling option. Throw in some, or add your kid’s favorite fruit as well!
- Pancakes or waffles with nut butter – We went through a season where one of my kids preferred peanut butter and jelly on pancakes for lunch. Kodiak also makes a high-protein pancake mix that’s yummy and makes pancakes a more sustaining lunch option.
- French toast sticks – We make up a batch of french toast sticks ahead of time and pack them with a little cup of syrup for dipping at lunch. One of my kids likes them cold, and the egg adds some protein.
Lunch in Tortillas
- Chicken or plain cheese quesadilla – Surprisingly, cold quesadillas are among my kids’ top picks for lunch foods. This is convenient as they’re easy to make and slice the night before.
- Burritos – Burritos are an easy way to pack in all sorts of veggies. Try one with some chicken, rice, beans, corn, salsa, and lettuce! Add in some guacamole to make them even better.
- Turkey roll-ups – Turkey roll-ups are easy and fun! Put turkey and cheese in a tortilla, roll up, and cut!
- Nut butter and banana roll-ups – Another easy roll-up idea. You can use a whole-grain tortilla for added fiber.
Bento Box Lunch
A bento box lunch is super fun, and you can fill the bento box with all sorts of fun snacks! Meat, cheese, nuts, fruit, the choice is yours! Here are some more ideas for what to put in your bento:
- Crackers, cheese, meat, and nuts – All great ingredients for a healthy lunch!
- Hummus, veggies, and turkey – Hummus is an excellent, healthy dip for veggies like carrots and celery. Throw in some turkey slices for some added protein.
- Fruit and almond butter – Back to basics. Fruit and almond butter has the perfect mix of sweet and savory.
- Sushi – It can be an acquired taste, but if your kid is a fan, sushi is an easy lunch idea for when you’d like a grab-and-go option. You can find a sushi package at most supermarkets’ deli counter.
- Hardboiled eggs and veggies are a kid’s favorite and are full of protein. Throw some vegetables on the side for a well-rounded lunch.
- Granola or protein bar – Sometimes you need a basic, simple food in your kid’s lunch that you know they’ll eat. A bar is a reliable choice.
- Homemade lunchables – Take ham, cheese, and crackers, and you have your homemade lunchable! Add some veggies or fruits on the side.
- Carrot and cucumber sticks with ranch dressing – Many bento boxes come with a leakproof dip cup, perfect for ranch dressing to dip veggies in.
Packing lunches can be a creative process. Experiment with different foods to find what your child enjoys most. Including a sweet note or a treat to brighten their day can be fun and will send your love along with them to school. And remember, it’s just one meal of their day – it doesn’t need to be perfect!